David Cameron hit back at “totally inappropriate” criticism of his plans for tougher curbs on migrants by an “unelected” Brussels official as he sought support for his stance at a summit of fellow leaders.
The Prime Minister revealed that he collared European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso at the Lithuania gathering to complain about the intervention by employment commissioner Laszlo Andor. Mr Andor launched an outspoken attack on the Government’s benefit crackdown, warning Britain would be seen as “nasty” if it pushed ahead with the measures which he called “an unfortunate over-reaction”.
Five weeks before Romanian and Bulgarian nationals get new rights to live and work in the UK, Mr Cameron has set out radical plans to overhaul welfare rules, including stopping new arrivals from the EU receiving out-of-work benefits for their first three months in the country.
He says he wants to send a clear signal to would-be migrants that Britain is not a “soft touch”.
But he is also pushing for wider EU reforms such as limiting the free movement of workers – seen as a fundamental principle of the EU – from new member states until they hit a certain level of GDP per head.
Over dinner in Vilnius he told EU and east European leaders it was impossible to press ahead with welcoming new countries to the Union “without addressing abuse of free movement and how it works in future”, Number 10 said.
Germany and France are among other key EU member states taking action on the benefits issue.
Mr Cameron wrote on Twitter that he had raised Commissioner Andor’s comments with Mr Barroso and told him it was “totally inappropriate for unelected officials to complain about legitimate concerns”.
Under the new measures, EU nationals will only be able to claim out-of-work benefits for six months unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment.